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Europe Soldiers On

<CS:BOLD>LONDON -- It's not often that designers are called upon to fashion a battle plan, but, living with war and its consequences has, for some, become part of day-to-day business.<BR><BR>Small accessories and ready-to-wear companies that rely on...

LONDON — It’s not often that designers are called upon to fashion a battle plan, but, living with war and its consequences has, for some, become part of day-to-day business.

Small accessories and ready-to-wear companies that rely on specially woven fabrics and hand-embroidery from Nepal and parts of India are preparing backup sourcing plans as insurance, should using their regular vendors become impractical in the weeks or months ahead.

Designer Sophia Swire goes to Nepal to have her silk accessories hand-embroidered and beaded. She also sources her pashmina shawls in the narrow — and once tranquil — country, wedged between India and Tibet.

But she’s not sure how long she’ll be able to continue working there.

“Nepal has a rising Maoist problem,” she said, referring to communist activists whom the Nepalese government has accused of terrorist acts. India has also charged that terrorist organizations based in Nepal were responsible for the 2000 hijacking of one of its commercial planes.

Swire, who also works as a freelance journalist covering the region, added, “There are a lot of al Qaeda members who have escaped to Kathmandu to join members of other terrorist networks.

“In case anything happens, I’ve set up alternative manufacturing in Calcutta, Bombay and New Delhi….I’d be able to shift production to India overnight,” she said. “If you’re working in the developing world, you have to be aware of the political situation. You must not be too reliant on any one region, because you don’t want to be a victim of world circumstances. On the other hand, you don’t want to pull out of a certain region, and deprive people of jobs, if there’s no immediate threat.”

In that spirit, Swire is planning a trip to Afghanistan in the spring to see if she can employ local women to make hand-loomed silk scarves.

“They have a wonderful tradition there of hand-looming and hand-embroidery, and I’d like to encourage trade rather than aid,” she said.

Allegra Hicks, who opened her first London store just a few weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, said in a telephone interview from New Delhi that she, too, has had to adjust the way she does business.

“I was originally planning to use hand-embroidered wool from Kashmir for the autumn 2002 collection, which would have been fantastic. But under the circumstances, I’ve decided to use cashmere made in Italy,” she said. “If something happens in Kashmir, I can’t risk not being able to deliver. Sourcing the wool in Italy is simply easier.”

But Hicks, who designs home textiles as well as an rtw and accessories collection, said she made no other changes to her routine. She’s still having her fabrics printed in New Delhi and her silks made in Bangalore, India.

“I’m still making my usual trips to India, two or three times a year,” she said. “That hasn’t changed.”

Designer Jemima Khan’s clothing business bore the brunt of the Sept. 11 attacks. In December, she was forced to shutter her five-year-old business that was based in London and Pakistan. She blamed the terrorist attacks, the war in Afghanistan and the ongoing recession in Pakistan for her decision.

She said she tried to convince her clients that production and deliveries would continue on schedule despite the war in the region, but nothing would dissuade them. Khan had employed some 800 women who embroidered and beaded her silk garments by hand in their homes.

“I had no option but to close down my fashion label,” she wrote in an editorial last December in London’s Daily Telegraph. “The people who will lose out are the ones I set up the company for.”